It's Interesting, How I Work

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

People don’t think I’m an introvert.  But it is true.
Partially, that’s because people don’t get introverts.  They think, “Oh, introverts don’t like people,” but in truth, we introverts like people like tennis players love playing tennis: it’s great fun for an hour.  Maybe if you’re into it, you can go all afternoon.  But the idea of playing tennis twelve hours a day, seven days a week is fucking exhausting, a seemingly superhuman feat of endurance, and at some point you have to go plop in front of the couch and rest up for the next match.
It’s not that we don’t like people; it’s just that being around you involves putting out effort.  And so we have to utilize our socialization sparingly.
But that’s also partially because I seem comfortable at conventions and large parties.  I have zero problems speaking impromptu before large crowds.  In fact, I remember a friend of mine drunkenly accosting me at a convention, poking me in the arm jovially and saying, “You know, you are a liar.”
“How did I lie?” I asked, shocked.
You said,” he told me, sloshing his drink at me, “That you were lonely at conventions, and that anyone should feel free to say hello to you.  And here you are!”  He pointed at the four people I was engaged with in happy conversations, the pretty woman who was hugging me because I’d told her snuggles made me feel better.  “Every time I have seen you at this con, you have been surrounded by people!”
This was true.
It was also a sign of desperation.
I got really pissy at someone last week because they said, “Ferrett always makes himself look good in his essays.”  That was probably the maddest at any comment I’ve gotten in the last month, and that’s a month of dealing with douchy Alpha Male Men’s Rights Advocates popping by to pick fights.  Because I’m always shocked when people don’t get it.
This whole blog is basically spackling over some rather deep psychological flaws.
Because, yeah, I am lonely at conventions.  I freeze when asked to talk to strangers.  I freeze when asked to talk to friends, as unless you say “hello” to me I’m not only convinced that you don’t remember me, but I am convinced you probably do remember me and dislike me intensely.  I am totally dysfunctional when it comes to speaking to new people.
Yet I have a blog.
And I yammer on on various topics, and invite people into my little huddled cave of conversation here – a place I control, and can leave whenever I see fit, a perfect place for a socially anxious introvert – and slowly, by discussing my personal life with flair and consistency, y’all feel like you come to know me.
So when I go to conventions, people know me far more than they would if I actually had to meet them in person.  They wave me over to join them, because we’ve exchanged comments, and because they know from essays like this just how fucking neurotic I am, and even though I’ve only said hello to them once briefly at a con in 2011, we are now friends on some level that brings me comfort.
I am lonely at conventions.  But because I have a large online presence, it compensates.  I broadcast to the world, “Oh, hey, guys, if you see me please say hello because I’m stupidly paranoid,” and some people are kind enough to have heard my announcements and as such go out of their way to invite me out specifically, and then I can be happy and bouncy and tell my silly stories.
Yet that trick doesn’t work with people who don’t follow me.  There’s a Big-Name Author who I’ve met at conventions at least ten times, who taught a class I attended, who has never been anything other than kind and courteous to me in real life – and yet I can’t talk to him because he doesn’t follow me on Twitter, and as such I’m just this schlub to him, and even though he’s occasionally even waved hello at me, talking to him without him initiating the conversation is like trying to push past a wall of my own terrors.
My friends have ribbed me for this.  They are correct to.  Because really, why should I be afraid to talk to this guy?
Because he hasn’t interacted with me in the format of my choosing.
And that, my friends, is why I get a little pissy when people go, “Oh, Ferrett always makes himself look awesome.”  Even if I did do that – and I think the simplest Google search will pull up several instances of me being a total asshole – anyone who’s been reading me for a while knows that honestly, The Blog is my very introverted and skewed way of interacting with the world.  It’s not a bad thing, the blog – in fact, it’s a total positive for me on the whole, because I’ve tried to get around my social anxieties for thirty-plus years and have determined that like many deeply-embedded issues, it’s easier to do an end-run around the central problem than try to demolish a mountain with a sledgehammer.
Yet still.  The blog is basically an admission of failure.  You could call this whole thing FERRETT’S OVERCOMPENSATION, and you wouldn’t be too wrong.  Thankfully, I’ve got a nice voice, and a lot of people seem to think what I say is generally sensible and/or entertaining, so it works.
But behind the scenes?  You don’t have to look too far to see the duct tape and baling wire holding my personality together.  The blog’s brought a lot of benefits, but like a lot of showmen, if I was a quote-unquote “normal” person without problems, I wouldn’t need this stage at all.
The stage is a benefit.  But it’d be awfully nice just to be able to walk up to someone I’d met once, and never met again, and do that salesman’s-confidence trick of going, “Hi, I’m Ferrett, we met once in Birmingham?” without having to psych myself up for an hour first.
As it is: I have this.  And thank you, thank you, for stepping aboard.

6 Comments

  1. Mishell Baker
    Jun 27, 2014

    People confuse “shy” and “introverted” all the time, which is where you get comments like “You’re not an introvert! You walked right up to that guy and said hello!” Though as I read further in this post it seems like you’re both shy and introverted. But I get really annoyed when people assume just because someone talks easily to strangers that the person must be an extrovert. Possibly, but not necessarily.
    Anyone who has met me has heard me give this speech, but I’m going to keep giving it, ’cause not enough people understand it. An introvert is someone who is worn out by social activity; an extrovert is someone who is energized by it. It has nothing to do with how comfortable you are meeting people, how witty you are, or how fluent your social manners are. A person can be a gregarious, charming introvert or a shy, awkward extrovert.
    For that matter, charming/awkward are also unrelated to the shy/gregarious or introvert/extrovert spectrum. Three entirely different spectrums (spectra?). I would class myself as extremely shy, extremely extroverted, and somewhere in the middle on the awkward/charming scale, in that depending on the situation I can be either/or.
    Being a gregarious introvert or a shy extrovert is kind of hellish. In the first case, people don’t pick up on the cues that you want to be left alone, because you seem to be having such an easy time chatting with them. So eventually you explode with rage and slam doors, and you get a reputation for being “weird and moody.” In the second case (mine), you desperately crave social interaction (and need it like plants need sun) but are an utter failure at getting it started because you’re scared out of your wits.
    Anyway, sorry for the tangent. I just find the whole introvert/extrovert thing fascinating.

  2. Richard Shealy
    Jun 27, 2014

    It’s often a matter of how well defined the public roles are. Despite having been in teaching (both high school and college) for about a decade, despite being told (to my surprise) by good friends that I have a “big personality,” I’m shy and nervous as hell in public. In the first “despite,” the role of teacher is a clearly defined one, and that makes me a lot more comfortable, so I relax and let myself flow much more freely. In the second, it’s much like the first, except the context is that of close friends…which is also a clearly defined role, which lets me relax, etc.
    I have a *terrible* time at social-relation things that should be extremely easy. Example: At the last con I attended, someone pointed out, “Hey, that’s X; he’s a senior editor at (fill in the blank of a big publishing house where I haven’t yet gotten my name on the list of freelance copyeditors, part of the reason I *go* to cons). Go introduce yourself.” I have to work myself up to it, go over potential “scripts” in my head, figure out what stupid things are likely to come out of my mouth, and so on, before I can steel myself to walk up to them, MUCH LESS introduce myself. The sheer audacity, the raw chutzpah…to me, it takes what feels like a *lot* of nerve to step up out of the blue and present myself without feeling like a stumbling idiot.
    I didn’t even realize this consciously until, when sitting around over a beer with some friends more than fifteen years ago, one of them told me that they had thought I was a snob before they got to know me (“After the seminar was over, you never stayed around to talk to any of us. You always left immediately, and we thought you believed you were too important to hang around with us”). Shocked the socks off of me, to be honest. I distinctly remembered always feeling like I’d be butting in, getting above myself by barging in. We all had a good laugh when that came out, but it showed me *exactly* where my social weakness was: the beginning.
    You’re far from the only one, in other words.

  3. ellixis
    Jun 27, 2014

    I hear you and I feel you, man. I do most of my socialization online because I find face-to-face interaction exhausting, and a lot of people don’t quite get that because I am fairly friendly and talkative in person. Text interactions are a controllable stimulation.
    I love friends, and I love cons, but whenever a friend visits or I attend a con I must afterward spend a week or two recovering with minimal human interaction. It’s lovely but just so draining. I only know one couple who are capable of respecting my introvert space well enough that they don’t make me tired. It’s a rare thing.
    I think, too, that many of us are held together with duct tape and bits of wire under the surface. I sure am, and I know that many of my friends are. Knowing it helps, and sometimes, the ones who know you best can hold the roll of tape and hand you pieces when you’re having a tough time holding it together all yourself.

  4. Sarah G.
    Jun 30, 2014

    I’m curious–how does an introvert handle polyamory? I mean, it seems like a lifestyle that calls for quite a bit of self-confidence, not to mention some serious people skills. Apologies if I’m pushing into areas too personal for discussion, but if you’re cool with answering, I’m genuinely interested. How does that work?

    • TheFerrett
      Jul 1, 2014

      You’re making the assumption that “introvert” means “bad with people,” which I went out of my way in the essay to explain that’s not the case at all.
      Introversion has nothing to do with self-confidence. Introversion has nothing to do with people skills. Introversion merely has to do with where you recharge.

      • Sarah G.
        Jul 1, 2014

        You’re right, I read both this and your subsequent post but misinterpreted the implications. I assumed introversion meant tending to need to withdraw from people, whereas polyamory requires sustaining deep emotional contact with *more* people (when you’re worn out from Partner A, you still need to support Partner B). When I said “bad with people,” that’s what I meant–unable to sustain extended contact, not, e.g., an asshole or socially incompetent.
        It was an honest question. No offense intended.

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